I expected a series finale curve ball from Americans honchos Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields and we got one. It was a curveball that Minnesota Twins super fan Glenn Haskard would have appreciated since his boy Bert Blyleven had the best hook in baseball history. I knew a curveball was coming but I wasn’t prepared for this particular break.
Even the finale title START was a curveball. It was named for the next generation disarmament pact that was finalized during Bush 42’s administration. But it sounds more like a series premiere. It’s The Americans way.
I “studied” for the finale by watching big chunks of seasons 3 and four in preparation. I’m not sure if I aced it, but I’m hoping to give Henry a run for his money grade-wise. Please grade me on a curve or is that curveball? You decide.
After several relatively silent episodes, music was prominent in the series finale. I’ll get to the use of U2’s With or Without You after the break. The dirge-like Brothers In Arms was brilliantly used in the episode and since it’s one of my favorite Dire Straits songs, I decided to make it the post title. It will also be burned on my mind as the theme song of Philip and Stan’s doomed friendship.
Let’s play it before the spoiler break:
Before getting down to it, here’s a Brothers In Arms related quote from an interview Weisberg and Fields did with Alan Sepinwall:
Was “Brothers In Arms” something you’d been thinking about for a while? Or did that also come up pretty late?
Fields: Same story. We tried so many songs there and that sequence also was very challenging to find the right song for. That was actually a sequence where almost nothing worked, but the moment we heard “Brothers in Arms” played against it, we knew we had to have it. There was just going to be nothing else. And we got really lucky in that they reached out. We heard that not only did Mark Knopfler personally approve of our using the song in the show, but he and Gy Fletcher allowed us to access some of their original tracks that we didn’t have access to so that it could be folded into the sequence just right.
The series finale was emotionally satisfying and true to the spirit of the series. The curveballs came in the execution and story choices. There were Hitchcockian set-pieces in the penultimate episode but not in the finale. Nobody experienced a physical death but the landscape was littered with emotional corpses. I’m not sure if such a thing is possible but I was repeatedly gutted by what happened to characters we’ve gotten to know over the course of the previous 74 episodes.
Moscow Is Forced To Believe In Tears: There was a Soviet film, Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears, that was an unlikely international hit in 1980. It was unlikely because the Cold War had heated up because of the Afghanistan War and the Carter administration led boycott of the Moscow Summer Olympics. They have summer in Moscow? Who knew?
We didn’t see Igor Burov’s tears, but we felt them after Arkady informed him that Oleg was in jail and likely to stay there for many years. Minister Burov was crushed when he realized that a trade was unlikely even if he asked Gorbachev. Arkady and Igor are convinced Igor’s mission flopped. In fact, it succeeded when Elizabeth gunned Tatiana down on the streets of Washington City.
The gutting continued when we saw Igor encounter his family. Mrs. Burov already lived life on the edge and she’s likely to fly apart when she learns of Oleg’s plight. I get a bit verklempt just contemplating it.
Dennis The Closer: Dennis is in charge of interrogating Father Andrei, his beard, and his cassock. Mercifully, the priest doesn’t have his incense censer with him. I hate incense and favor censoring censers whenever feasible.
Dennis hones in on the cleric’s love of the Russian Orthodox Church. Dennis reminds him that he’s in bed with an organization (the KGB) that wishes the church ill. It worked brilliantly: Father Andrei admits to having seen Nadhezdha and Misha out of disguise, so this time the sketches aren’t sketchy.
Spy Family Fights: As their covert world unravels, Spy Family Jennings has a series of spats. Philip actually wins the fight over whether Henry will run with the family or stay behind. When did a 17-year-old boy ever make it easy on their parents? I certainly did not. I was a horror, only half as cute as Henry and twice as mouthy.
The Henry war resumes when the spy parents go to collect baby spy, Paige. She raises some practical points but her parents are adamant; Elizabeth even acts as if it were her idea. We know it to be Philip’s ultimate sacrifice: he loves his son and his willing to be hated by him to spare him life in a strange country where he knows neither the language nor the customs. Henry missed out on Claudia’s culture lessons since he was out of the loop at prep school. Being out of the loop can be a good thing.
I was surprised that Paige left her pad with her parents. She was still angry with her mother after their huge blow out in the penultimate episode. And this is before she was obliged to wear a disguise that made her look like Velma in Scooby Doo. Ruh roh.
Nothing Good Ever Happens In A Parking Garage: All of our favorite Feeb’s worst fears are confirmed when Stan confronts Spy Family Jennings in a parking garage. They try to keep up their front, but when they realize the jig is up, Philip tries a new Stan management technique, the truth. Not the whole truth because they’re still telling Paige they’re the Gandhi and MLK of KGB illegals, but enough of the truth to keep Stan engaged.
I have no doubt that Philip was telling the truth that Stan *was* his friend and he hated lying to him. Stan is taken aback but continues to try to get the family to assume the arrest position and lie down on the garage floor. They refuse, both because they think Stan is wavering and because garage floors are dirty and oily. Yuck.
As Philip reasons with Stan, Elizabeth casts her predatory gaze at the distraught Feeb. I kept waiting for her to leap on Stan like she did with the muggers from season 4. I expected Stan to be killed or to kill but then the producers threw a wicked curveball. Philip’s soothing tones and 85% truths have the desired effect. The only way they’re not escaping is if Stan opens fire but he cannot bring himself to kill people for whom he “would have done anything” before the unmasking.
When I looked at my phone, I had a text from a friend saying, “I can’t believe Stan let them go.” I could because it’s how they’ve always done things. The Americans has always avoided clichés and easy answers. It’s why it’s one of the best teevee dramas ever.
Going into the finale, I was hoping that Gabriel and Martha would get curtain calls and that we’d see Stan come face-to-face with his neighbors. Since we’re using baseball analogies, a .333 average is often enough to win the batting championship so I’m satisfied.
On The Run: Paige and Elizabeth prevail on Philip to call Henry. It’s a deeply weird conversation. Henry rolls his eyes because he thinks his dad is drunk. Unless he seeks Philip out later in life, it will be the last time they’ll ever speak; in typical teenage fashion, he’s eager to get off the phone to play in a ping-pong tournament. Ping-pong is more important than Philip? There’s no accounting for taste. So much for ping-pong diplomacy.
To the strains of U2’s With or Without You, the family buries their American identities. Philip nearly cracked a smile when the suicide amulet given to Elizabeth by the Dead Hand dead enders went in the hole. I found myself humming this song:
The contents of the hole are meant to endure longer than 30 days. But the hole digging was when I began to think Paige might split. One reason she was the worst spy ever is that you can see every emotion on her face. Unlike her spy parents, she’s all tell: the polar opposite of a poker face.
The moment when Elizabeth sees Paige/Velma on the platform, she nearly flips her dowdy Stephanie wig. Philip is gobsmacked and goes to Elizabeth but they know that they’ll never see their daughter again. Spy Family Jennings is no more.
Together Alone: At the risk of sounding like a Trump tweet, the end of the episode is sad, sad, sad. We see a solitary Paige pour herself a tumbler of vodka in Claudia’s spy crib. I wonder if she found any stew or soup in the freezer. A baby spy has got to eat.
We see Stan casting a cynical glance at Walk Away Renee. Philip had warned him that “she might be one of us.” Some have wondered if this is a parting shot, but I think it was more in the nature of a friendly warning. When Renee hugs Stan as the Jennings spy crib is being searched, he barely returns it. Stan’s marriage has been shattered and likely his career as well. I’m stunned at the number of people who think has a future at the FBI: remember what happened to John Boy when he let Martha operate under his nose.
Finally, Elizabeth and Philip return to Mother Russia. Dr. A and I were worried that they’d be arrested but knew they’d survive when Arkady collected them. Unlike many viewers I didn’t expect the Jennings to face some sort of legal punishment at the end of the series. I always had a hunch that they’d get away, although the foreshadowing involving Elizabeth was dire this season.
Their punishment may not involve jail but it’s severe nonetheless. They’ve lost their children. Henry is likely to hate them forever and become a young Reaganite like so many kids in that era. That would be the ultimate rebellion against a Communist mother and a father who kept on fighting for a cause he neither admired nor understood. Paige may move to Argentina and learn how to dance the tango with Pastor Tim.
Elizabeth and Philip still have each other. My gut instinct is that they’ll stay together: they’re connected in a way that few people ever are. But that’s the stuff of fan fiction as is the fate of the other characters we’ve gotten to know over the 6 seasons of The Americans.
I think the series finale deserves to be compared with the best of the so-called golden age of teevee drama. I think it’s right up there with The Shield and Six Feet Under. But in the end, the characters end up together alone. That’s why Crowded House gets the last word: